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Advertisers still love Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg

At the Cannes Creativity festival, Facebook’s chief operating officer took responsibility for mistakes made in the 2016 election and argued against being broken up. You know, the usual. Plus: inside the Spotify X Obama collab.

Advertisers still love Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook (left), with moderator Caroline Hyde, journalist at Bloomberg (right). [Photo: courtesy of Cannes Lions]

If Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s appearance at Cannes wasn’t the most anticipated session of the week, I don’t know what was, so let’s get to it:

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Sheryl calms her customers

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg took to the Palais stage in front of a packed house of people who lined up more than hour ahead of time, with some sitting in the aisles to hear her session.

Interviewed by Bloomberg‘s Caroline Hyde, Sandberg started off promoting the value of diversity in advertising, but not surprisingly, the chat rather quickly transitioned into one around Facebook’s privacy issues, the antitrust argument for U.S. tech giants, the company’s response to Russian interference in the 2016 election, and its preparedness for 2020.

Sandberg reiterated her denial of allegations that once Facebook execs understood the issue of Russian election interference, they sought to conceal it. “There are things that we missed, we wish we had understood the Russian interference in the U.S. election, we didn’t and we missed it,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to get ahead of it, and I think we’ve done much better in the recent EU elections and U.S. midterms. But the fact that this is hard is important because we have a responsibility to people around the world who are using our services. And we have a responsibility, I have a responsibility to protect that.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. [Photo: courtesy of Cannes Lions]
Looking ahead to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, she added, “We’re going to be as prepared as we possibly can.”

Asked about the growing chorus of voices calling for breaking up the U.S. tech giants via antitrust enforcement, Sandberg laid out the case against it, saying antitrust is fundamentally about consumer choice and consumer benefit (a more recent, narrower lens of antitrust consideration than how the laws were first conceived to break up the railroad and oil barons of the early 2oth century). “If you look at competition, if you want to take a photo of us on stage, you can share that on Instagram, but you can also share that on many other services like Google Photos, or take a video and post it to YouTube, or share it on Snapchat,” she said. “If you want to send a message, of course you can use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, but there’s also iMessage and WeChat, and it’s incredibly popular. With anything we do, there is a lot of consumer choice and we are committed to doing the things we need to do to make sure consumer choice continues.”

She then diverted attention by discussing Chinese tech companies, and the concerns over their lack of regulation. (This is the current talking point du jour among Big Tech in light of the Chinese trade war and the U.S. government preventing Chinese networking providers ZTE and Huawei from working with U.S. companies.)  “People behind closed doors on both sides of the aisle are appropriately worried about Chinese companies, some of which are far bigger, and have far many more people and more services than we do as well, and I think that’s something that needs to be taken into account.”

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Toward the end of the talk, Sandberg was asked if she ever questions herself as a leader. “When we missed what happened with the election, when we failed to respond quickly enough to Cambridge Analytica, of course,” she said.

The room was sympathetic to one of their digital advertising overlords, even applauding when she talked (again) about calling girls bossy. In chatting with people after the event, the consensus seemed to be that Sandberg was charming albeit a bit bland. All in all, Sandberg and Facebook have to consider the appearance a win even if some of what she was saying wasn’t all that new or confidence boosting. That’s the power of a personal brand!

Best metaphor for heaven or hell

Without setting foot here, all that comes to mind are groups of sunbathers yelling at each other about politics or Aperol Spritzes. Or both!

[Photo: courtesy of Jeff Beer]

Why Spotify is helping the Obamas get into podcasting 

Back on June 6, Spotify announced a deal that brings President Barack Obama, former First Lady Michelle Obama, and their production company Higher Ground into the company’s ever-expanding podcast stable. I met up with chief content officer Dawn Ostroff at Spotify Beach, the brand’s giant encampment along Cannes’ Croissette, to talk a bit more about it.

Ostroff, who spoke here at Cannes Lions yesterday in a session called “The Golden Age of Sound,” says Spotify is working with the Obamas to build out their own podcast team at Higher Ground, and to help develop content in the audio space. “We have expertise, having bought Gimlet, having our own podcast team, we’re just trying to advise them at the start to help them hire their Higher Ground team,” says Ostroff. “They’re going to have their own team, so if we can lend expertise, we’re glad to do so.”

Dawn Ostroff, Chief Content Officer of Spotify. [Photo: courtesy of Cannes Lions]
The former CW Network and Conde Nast exec said in their pitch to the Obamas, the emphasis was how robust a platform podcasting is to express their ideas. “When we presented the deal, and our vision and goal for the podcast industry to the President and Mrs. Obama, we talked about how broad and deep this medium is,” says Ostroff. “It’s not like programming a network when there are x many hours to fill. It’s a very different idea, where any subject matter can be interesting to many different people.”

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While she didn’t have any details on the types of podcasts Higher Ground would be producing just yet, she did have a point of reference. “If you see their Netflix slate, some are scripted shows, some are documentaries. I think it just needs to be subject matter that has some substance and meaning to them,” she said.

The new deal will also have a significant impact on Spotify’s podcasting business, and Ostroff said it’s just the beginning.  “It will now be a calling card that says what kind of content we’re going to make, this is the level and quality of content we’re going to make,” said Ostroff.  “I think you’re going to see a lot more announcements after this, because we’ve been working hard on not only finding projects that will resonate, but it’s amazing to see the level of talent looking to work in this space. Writers, actors, directors—people are fascinated by podcasts.”

I guess we can add former world leaders to that list.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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